Kiholo plan seeks to rein in public access


State officials aren’t planning to open up wide swaths of Kiholo State Park to the public, a planning document says.

“The general principle of the Master Plan is that it is not desirable to encourage large numbers of people to make unsupervised visits to (cultural and historical) sites (within the park),” a “pre-final” master plan and draft environmental assessment for the park, released Monday, said. “Instead, efforts should be made to ensure that such visits are supervised. If, and as, funds become available to conduct further interpretive analysis or restoration work, and to develop and implement interpretive programs they could become part of the overall park experience.”

The Department of Land and Natural Resources has been operating the park under an interim management plan since fall 2011. The latest master plan, and the associated draft environmental assessment, calls for allowing at least 10 campsites within the park, or more under a second alternative, but keeping the activities focused on passive uses, such as hiking, swimming and weekend camping.

“Access to many areas of the park will remain unimproved or be carefully managed for low impact, with minimal modification to the landscape,” the plan said. “This is intended to provide contrast with the continued and increasing development in the Kona region, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy an environment which is timeless and emphasizes the solace and beauty of an untouched, endemic Hawaiian wilderness.”

The document estimated it would cost DLNR $1.5 million to $1.8 million for repairs and programming. The largest expenditure would be relocating the Queen Kaahumanu Highway entrance to the state park. The plan outlines two alternatives, one allowing for slightly more camping than is allowed now, one expanding camping opportunities. A no-action alternative was also included; that option would revert the park to its previous rules, which banned camping. People, mostly Hawaii Island residents, ignored that rule for years.

Interpretative programs will not be a priority at the park, the plan said. DLNR would channel any new funding for the park toward protecting resources, such as sealing burial caves, before using the money for interpretive work, which is not what many people asked for during public planning meetings two years ago.

Under the proposed alternatives, the park would become a “wilderness park,” the draft document said, although some areas within its boundaries are already somewhat developed. The park isn’t especially remote, either, the document said, noting the relatively easy access from Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

That doesn’t mean the park is without a natural, untouched feel, however, planners said.

“There are rugged, uninhabited, and largely untouched portions of the park where human development is undetectable and the distinctly Hawaiian coastal ecosystem functions much as it has for centuries,” the document said. “Also, the large park size allows opportunities for the experience of solace and separation from nearby urban development, which is an essential part of a wilderness experience.”

Plans do call for interpretative efforts to educate park visitors, but planners warned against installing signage directing visitors not to enter certain areas because of sensitive cultural sites, such as burials. Such signage does more to encourage people to trespass in those areas than no signage at all. Because of state budgetary restraints, though, DLNR would expect to continue working with local stewardship groups.

DLNR planners held a meeting in September 2011, as well as met with people with historical ties to the district, to discuss the park and its history. During those meetings, community members questioned the department’s ability to care for the park, as well as the process by which stewardship groups have been selected for other state parks.

“Many of those contacted indicated that the state’s track record when it came to delivering on promises was poor,” the plan said. “Conditions at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area and Kekaha Kai State Parks (operated by the Division of State Parks) and at Kahaluu Beach Park and Spencer Beach Park (operated by the County of Hawaii) were all cited as examples of places that did not live up to their potential under the current system of management.”

People also raised questions about how DLNR would enforce any new rules it instituted at Kiholo. The Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement was ready and willing to provide additional support if the voluntary supervision, provided by a curatorship agreement, “proves insufficient in certain instances,” the document said.